The population of Wyoming is the fourth-fastest-growing in the nation, primarily due to increased employment in the oil and gas industry, as well as a related spike in the construction market. But people also are attracted to the state’s high plains, the eastern ridges of the Rocky Mountains and gorgeous panoramic views. Two years ago, when Gerard Klein was asked to accept the position of CEO at the Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County (MHSC), Wyo., he was well aware of the area’s natural attributes, but he was more interested in what the small but growing hospital had to offer, as well as its potential.
“When I looked at coming here, I saw the young and excited medical staff, a very involved board of directors, a hospital in excellent financial condition and an area ripe for change and expansion of services,” he says. “It was a great opportunity.”
Located in Rock Springs, Wyo., MHSC is a nonprofit, 99-bed acute-care facility that has been accredited by The Joint Commission. Operated “for the sole purpose of promoting the health of the people in its service area,” MHSC offers intensive care, emergency, obstetrics, surgical and same-day surgery departments, as well as a full-service laboratory and pathology team. It also manages an employed-physician clinic – Sweetwater Medical Group – that offers family practice, internal medicine, ENT (ear, nose and throat), general surgery, psychiatry, pediatrics, orthopedics, nephrology, pulmonology and oncology. The hospital’s medical imaging center has the first and only large-bore MRI in the area, as well as ultrasound, nuclear medicine, PET scan and digital mammography services, and the only 64-slice CT scanner in the region.
In 2010, MHSC opened a $55 million addition to its core structure and is currently near completion on an $18.9 million medical office building and cancer treatment center, which will be the first center of its kind in southwest Wyoming.
“The hospital is very modern and efficient – it is a beautiful facility,” Klein stresses. “We will house the first full-service cancer center in southwest Wyoming and it’s not costing us anything because we are building it through a special-purpose tax. This adds one cent to our five-cent sales tax and has to be sponsored by the county or city government and go to a general election vote. The taxpayers have to agree to support it.”
When the new facility opens in October 2013, it will have expanded dialysis and cardiopulmonary rehab services, as well as a $3.1 million CT simulator and linear accelerator, which was donated by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The four-level medical office building and cancer center also will serve as a potential location for the expansion of services as a result of the hospital’s 2012 partnership with the University of Utah (U of U).
“Before, people in the area had to drive to Salt Lake City to The Huntsman Cancer Institute – which is part of the U of U – to get cancer treatment,” Klein says. “That’s a two-and-a-half to three-hour drive, and if they were doing radiation, they would have to stay for weeks at a time. Huntsman helped us design our center and helped us get our CT simulator.”
“We are the first affiliate of the University of Utah’s hospital and clinics – we are tertiary partners – and this allows us to move from being just the oldest hospital in the state and move from being a small local hospital to becoming a regional healthcare center,” he continues. “It also will help us to provide the medical staff that we need to expand our services. Our community is very excited about it – a bigger hospital and a cancer center are the two main things the community asked of us, and we’ve delivered them in the last year-and-a-half.”
The full-service cancer center will offer radiation and chemotherapy services. “We will be able to provide at least – but probably more than – 90 percent of the radiation oncology services that we will need to do,” Klein notes. “We went from not being able to do most of these services to being able to do 90 percent, which is great.”
To ensure it can deliver the expanded services it plans to offer, MHSC is recruiting aggressively. Klein explains the hospital is doubling the size of its dialysis staff and added a full-time pulmonologist, another pediatrician, a new orthopedic surgeon and two obstetrician-gynecologists.
Klein says that when he interviewed for his position at the hospital, he was concerned with the area’s small population and wondered if MHSC had challenges with recruitment of talented people. He notes, however, that the county has been growing each year and there is zero unemployment because of the vibrant energy markets.
“The community is very receptive of new people, and many young, talented people are attracted to this area,” he says. “We have a young medical staff that want the quality of life this area provides while still making a big impact in the area. They want to be in growth mode and in the beginning of the good things that are happening here.”